What the Anthony Weiner movie tells us about the Clintons’ past
How two different couples dealt with scandal
Given a name like Anthony Weiner, one is born with an fight or flight instinct. As the 96 minutes for the eponymously titled Weiner shows us with the subtlety of a gun, Anthony Weiner, be he the frontrunner in the New York City mayoral race or a disgraced Congressman found, literally, with what-his-last-name-calls-to-mind in his hand, is a fighter.
It’s almost admirable. As the story you probably already knows goes, Weiner resigned from the United States Congress after weeks of ridicule by the national media for sexting with a few Twitter mistresses. The documentary finds Weiner at the vanguard of his redemption tour, his campaign to become mayor New York City. Weiner tells us directly that his return to the public eye is primarily to appease his wife Huma Abedin, a top Hillary Clinton aide who clearly has mastered politics better than her bleeding heart (and dignity) husband. But let’s take a step back, because without context, none of this matters.
As far as Congressmen go, Anthony Weiner was one of the decent liberals. While explicitly acknowledging that, “Politicians are wired to need attention,” B-roll footage of Weiner does display a sort of commendable, pugnacious candor. On the House floor, there seems to be a genuine emotional impetus to do what’s right, even if, as we’ll explore later, that fight mode nails him in the end.
Weiner’s general decency at his job makes the high price of his comparatively comical crime all the more pathetic. As Weiner himself notes in the film, he did not use public funds, his position of authority or any sort of bodily force to begin semi-sexual extramarital relationships. Except for denying the integrity of his marriage, Weiner committed no offense other than taking embarrassing selfies. Yet he was crucified, and, as it’s incredibly important to note, by his own people.
Ironically enough, the late Andrew Breitbart of the firebrand conservative media network, Breitbart, first gained access to the infamous images of Weiner’s wiener. Breitbart posted an initial, cropped version of a shirtless selfie of Weiner, then privately showed shock jocks Opie and Anthony a second batch of photos, this time displaying his nude junk. Breitbart only agreed to show them the photos if they promised not to go public with them, but low and behold, they secretly recorded the meeting, rendering Weiner’s junk public.
The liberal media then vindicated Weiner, with even President Obama calling for him to step down. Then, long story short, as the film goes to depict, a new batch of nudes are exposed during Weiner’s mayoral run, ending his Hail Mary shot at a return to good graces and political life.
While the film’s story engages its viewers initially through its cast of compelling characters — for all his pathos, Weiner is likeable enough, as his wife Huma Abedin, comes across as much more genuine and elegant while being less robotic than her boss, Hillary Clinton — the real impact is compounded by the media circus that surrounds and obsessed over a slew of low-resolution, albeit, minor, moral crimes.
Compared to Weiner and Abedin’s tacit foils, Bill and Hillary Clinton, the starring couple of the 2016 election season, seem much more prone to manipulate the media or their contacts, and most importantly, unlike Weiner, Clinton has faced charges of rape, sexual aggression or misuse of power. Whereas Monica Lewinsky was publicly shamed and smeared in a campaign perpetuated by Hillary, Weiner’s former sexting buddy Sydney Leathers’ appearance in the film is her call, her claim to fame and, yes, her launch to an adult film career. In fact, the only person whose agency seems hijacked by his own lack of rational constraint is Weiner’s.
By juxtaposing the officiation of Weiner and Abedin’s wedding by Bill Clinton with an ending montage showing the mayoral victor, political mess Bill de Blasio’s inauguration with Clinton, the film implicitly asks, what are the political and character settings that must be present for someone facing charges as egregious as Clinton’s to remain in power, while Weiner is cast out into obscurity by his own party?
For one thing, as Weiner and Abedin’s political machinations caught on film show, they have lines they will not cross, limits to the lies that they will not tell. By contrast, Hillary’s private email servers never, ever leaked classified State Department secrets! And Bill did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky! Weiner instead falters on MSNBC, trying to bring the discussion back to policy, a laughably noble attempt in the era of Trump.
Speaking of Trump, the film almost acts as a testament to how the media’s rejection of discussion around policy and obsession with identity politics and salaciousness created Trump. We don’t care that Trump thinks that the Supreme Court has the power to prosecute Hillary Clinton, because the media would rather discuss riots! Rallies! Slovenian ex-supermodel wives! So yes, the fall of Weiner, eulogized in the eponymous film, depicts a terrifying phoenix rising from the ashes: politics in the era of emotion, rejecting any and all logic in favor of extremism.